Hype aside, rotation's focus on winning title
Phils' heralded five gather for first time at news conference
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The most talented rotation in Phillies history assembled for the first time Monday at Bright House Field.
They made no bold predictions. They just want to win the World Series.
That certainly is the expectation since Cliff Lee signed a five-year, $120 million contract in December. The Phils could have the best rotation since Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz anchored the Braves' staffs in the 1990s. It could be one of the best rotations in history.
"We haven't thrown a single pitch as a group yet," Lee cautioned everybody during a 30-minute news conference with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton. "So it's kind of early to say we're one of the best rotations in the history of the game. Obviously, we're a very talented group, and there is potential for all of that. But it's just that, it's potential."
The potential has fans gobbling up tickets and merchandise and anticipating this season more than any other in franchise history. There is reason for that. The group has a collective three Cy Young Awards, 10 top-five finishes in Cy Young Award voting, 13 All-Star selections, six 20-win seasons, three postseason MVP awards, a 22-8 postseason record and two World Series championship rings.
"Obviously, that is the ultimate goal," Lee said of winning the Fall Classic. "The first thing you've got to do is get there. We've got to play 162 games to get to the postseason. Once you're in the postseason, yeah, you've got to win the last game to do the ultimate. I know there are expectations there. We should have expectations in ourselves. I probably expect more out of myself than anyone expects of me. That's just the competitive nature. Yeah, that's the ultimate goal.
"I know there is a lot of hype. Everyone expects this and expects that, but that's in October. It's February right now, so we've got a lot of work to do between now and then to give ourselves the best chance to do that."
The news conference Monday broke little ground -- believe it or not, a reporter actually asked Lee if his love of cheesesteaks played a role in returning to Philadelphia -- but it had its interesting moments.
The hype has surrounded Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels with Blanton often the forgotten man. The Phils looked to trade Blanton after signing Lee to create more flexibility with their payroll, but they could not find a deal to suit them. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has said recently Blanton is the team's fifth starter and he expects him to remain with the team throughout the season -- although that can change.
So maybe it should have been no surprise to Blanton when a reporter asked Hamels about being the only pitcher in the rotation to have a championship ring.
Hamels immediately pointed toward Blanton and said, "He's got one, too."
Blanton had slowly raised his right hand by that point.
"I know you forget about me, but that's OK," Blanton said.
Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels made a point to let Blanton know he is part of their future success. It is why they dismissed many of the nicknames -- R2C2, Phantastic Four, etc. -- fans have given to the rotation.
"All those add up to four it seems like, and there's five of us," Lee said. "So I haven't heard one that sounded any good yet."
Blanton said he does not mind being the fifth man in a rotation with four aces.
"I'm not big on attention, and I don't think these other four guys are, either," he said. "I don't think they're the one that wants to stand out and say, 'Look, I'm the head of this rotation.' It doesn't matter to me. Winning is the biggest part for me. As far as expectations [of a trade] ... sometimes you can't really think about that. All I'm worried about is going out and trying to win another World Series with Philadelphia. I can't worry about the other part. That is the business part. That is what the people upstairs are for, and they handle that. I love it here. Hope I stay here."
If Blanton sticks, this rotation could be together for two seasons, although Oswalt also plays a big part in that. He said last summer he could retire following this season, despite a mutual option for 2012.
"I'm going to play this year and see how it goes," Oswalt said. "I'm going to see where my body's at pretty much and go from there. I'd like to stay here. I love Philly, had a great time last year, and hopefully this year will be better. But just kind of see where I'm at during the season."
The five pitchers, whose combined contracts are worth a staggering $297.5 million, were asked about how they spend their time away from the ballpark, talking about things other than baseball. They were asked about the camaraderie in the group.
"We've spent, what, two and a half hours so far?" he said.
"Yeah, we're real tight," Hamels said.
"You're not always going out to dinner with each other and doing stuff like that," Halladay added. "I think the time you do spend together on the field when you're traveling, you get to know guys and you definitely build a bond with them."
"We all have kind of the same values, and that makes it a lot easier for us to really relate and to have conversations," Hamels said. "I know we hang out a lot in the outfield during batting practice, so I think that always helps because you're just able to converse and get to know everybody and get a better understanding. But I think the organization has sensed that and seen that, and that's why they kind of wanted to put us together because we do. We all get along really well. I think it helps when the good times are really high, and when you get into those rough patches, we know how to handle ourselves really well."
The Phillies expect few rough patches with Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels and Blanton, assuming they can stay healthy. If they stay healthy and perform like expected and the offense scores enough runs, they should win a ton of games and play deep into October.
"A lot of us are to the point in our career where you feel like the biggest thing left for you to do is win a championship, whether you've already done it or you haven't," Halladay said. "That was my only goal going into last year was to try and win a World Series. So coming close and coming up short is definitely hard. It's disappointing. You have your heart set on that all year. Obviously, like Cliff said earlier, you have to focus on the job at hand to get there, but it's definitely hard. It's my ultimate goal again this year is to win a World [Series] championship, not forgetting about the steps that it's going to take to get there. That's why I still want to play this game. I want to be part of a World [Series] championship team. That is the biggest thing for me, and, yeah, it would be tough if we got close again and didn't win it."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.